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Valuable, Under-Reported Protection from Nuclear Attack

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Valuable, Under-Reported Protection from Nuclear Attack

You have plenty to worry about, don’t you, without turning your anxious eyes to the problem of possible nuclear attack on the U.S. Even less worrisome for most people is the chance of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack that would close down electricity, computers–everything but pre-modern infrastructure–for half or more of the country. Both kinds of danger have been described eloquently by Discovery Sr. Fellow John Wohlstetter (Sleepwalking with the Bomb), among others.

Yet the possible can become the probable without preventive measures. The point of missile defense is to make it clear to adversaries that an attack is likely to fail and to lead to a very successful counter-attack. The good news that is not being widely reported is that the military is doing something about it–finally.

Former Ambassador Henry Cooper and his High Frontier group are hailing the Pentagon’s $700 million investment in a hardened nerve center inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. That is the most serious first step in upgraded U.S. deterrence. Note Amb. Cooper’s warning that without greatly improved anti-ballistic missile protection from the middle or south of the globe, assaults still can come. So we are a long way from the kind of shield that will a) protect our homeland; and b) serve to deter aggression by North Korea, Iran or, for that matter, something like ISIS. But we at least do have a military command, Congress and–presumably, an Administration–that is preparing to do what is necessary.

Statement by Ambassador Henry F. Cooper:

The Pentagon recently announced that Raytheon is receiving a $700 million contract to prep the Cheyenne Mountain base in Colorado for the return of US Aerospace Command, built in the 1960s to respond to a Soviet nuclear strike; this new plan is to help counter a possible EMP attack by a rogue nation. This explicit acknowledgement of the EMP threat is a most welcome development. Hopefully, the U.S. “powers that be” will also take complementary steps to assure the survival of the American people in case of such an attack—and here are some hopeful signs this may be possible.

Several recent reports apparently stem from a very informative Pentagon press conference by the Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), Adm. Bill Gortney. They reinforce a well-known assessment that the first step to solving any problem, is to understand and define the problem. So far the essence and importance of these comments have not reached the mainstream press, but from my perspective, the most important observations are:

The shift to the Cheyenne Mountain base in Colorado is designed to safeguard the command’s sensitive sensors and servers from a potential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.
The suggestion is that communications is the primary concern, associated with providing accurate, timely and unambiguous Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack Assessment (ITW/AA) of air, missile and space threats—long a mission of NORAD.
Under the 10-year contract, Raytheon is supposed to deliver “sustainment” services and also unspecified work at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
In June 2013, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking on the roadway leading into the mountain, stated, “These facilities and the entire complex of NORAD and NORTHCOM represent the nerve center of defense for North America.”
On ballistic missile defense (BMD) matters, Admiral Gortney said or implied that:

North Korea has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead to put on an ICBM. [Comment: Such a warhead could be designed to maximize EMP effects.]
North Korea can mount a “light” nuclear warhead on its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), particularly on its mobile ICBM known as the KN-08—which is “very difficult” to counter, because following a mobile ICBM is difficult, thereby limiting efficient warning before its launch.
North Korea and maybe Iran are capable of an EMP attack on the United States. The current BMD systems can counter these ICBM attacks.
I concur with this final observation for a limited ICBM attack arriving from over the North Polar regions, but would emphasize that we remain vulnerable to an EMP attack from an overflying satellite that arrives from over the South Polar region—or from even short range ballistic missiles launched from off-shore vessels—particularly in the Gulf of Mexico.

But I would temper my criticism by noting that the first step in finding a solution is in defining the problem—and Admiral Gortney has done that for a major portion of the threat. We need to work with him to make sure the “powers that be” address the entire problem of assuring America can and will survive what is today an existential EMP threat.